ICON, the international contract research organisation (CRO) based in Dublin, Ireland, has raised its guidance for revenues and earning per diluted share (EPS) in 2008 after recording increases of close to 50% in net revenues and operating income for the first quarter.

Operating income rose by 46.4% to US$21.5 million in the quarter on net revenues that were 47.9% higher at US$201.3 million. Both net revenues and operating income have been showing steady growth quarter on quarter since the beginning of 2007.

Operating margins slipped back a little, to 10.7% from 10.8% in the first quarter of 2007. Without the impact of foreign exchange, the operating margin in the latest quarter would have been 12.0%, ICON reported.

In its core clinical business, the operating margin was 11.0% in Q1 2008 (12.4% without currency translation) compared with 11.3% in last year’s quarter. The operating margin for central laboratory services improved to 7.5% from 6.0% in the opening quarter of 2007.

Net income for the three months to 31 March 2008 was37.7% ahead at US$16.9 million, giving EPS of US$0.56 versus US$0.42 in Q1 2007.

Gross new business awards for the latest quarter were worth US$440 million against US$366 million in the fourth quarter of 2007 and US$245 million in the year-ago quarter. Net new business wins for Q1 2008 were a record US$369 million (US$344 million in Q4 2007, US$223 million in Q1 2007), giving a book-to-bill ratio of 1.8.

ICON had a total backlog of US$1,468 million as of the latest quarter. At the fourth-quarter stage last year the backlog was US$1,300 million and in the first quarter it was US$963 million.

ICON chairman Dr John Climax hailed an “excellent start to 2008”. In keeping with the promising outlook for the months ahead, the CRO has adjusted its revenue guidance for the full year upwards from US$750-US$770 million (as issued in December 2007) to US$840-US$860 million now. EPS guidance has moved up to US$2.35-US$2.45 from US$2.27-US$2.36 previously.